11 Bandits II
*Edited by Buzyhoneybee*
The group of men was seemingly half asleep, tired from the long day, but their sporadic flicks at pesky mosquitoes revealed their consciousness. The coachman peered into the dark forest, finding the trail familiar. After shipping the girls off, he'll finally be able to have a full week off.
"Halt!" he yelled. With a tug, all the horses stopped, softly neighing.
The giant man from earlier opened the door. "We've arrived. Each of you will step out of the carriage one by one. You can try running away, but this Meiwan Meiliao Forest is pretty vast and known for having many wild animals roam around the area. I'm afraid you won't survive through the night," His grin seemed scarier than the animals in the forest.
The girls looked at each other, waiting for someone to get off the carriage first. Yangmi's legs were cramped from sitting for so long and seeing no one leaving, she got off the carriage first. She stumbled a little as her tied hands made it difficult for her to get up. After Yangmi got off, the girls cautiously followed after her and slowly stepped out the carriage one by one.
Yangmi lifts her head upward, feeling the breeze blowing through her hair. The trees that surrounded her appeared so tall it could touch the stars.
"Line up," he said. The girls quickly followed his instructions, assembling themselves into a straight line, their bodies rigid. "Let's go." He and two other men led the girls while another three walked behind the girls. The cool wind caused the girls to shiver; they walked closely behind one another, hoping to generate some warmth.
It felt as though they were walking for years and although their feet were aching, they dare not to file a complaint. The abrupt stop of the men ahead of them made them aware of their surroundings.
In front of them was an old two-floor house surrounded by weeds. The grass in the area was all withered away; the taste of water seemed foreign to it. The stairs they walked on was unstable as though it would break at any step. The men harshly pushed the girls and threw them into a large empty room before slamming the door shut. The sound of the lock was like a nail hitting the girls' heart, leaving them hopeless.
Mingyuan, the girl in the blue dress, felt her vision going blurry and blood pounded in her ears. Her hand lifted up to grab her chest as her heart loudly thudded in her chest.
"What's wrong?" Yangmi asked with concern and walked to Mingyuan's side.
"Take slow, deep breaths," Xiaoran, the girl in the emerald green dress said. Mingyuan tried following Xiaoran's advice but breathing, currently, was difficult. She cried harder, her chest becoming more congested as bile rose in her throat. She simply wanted to enjoy the Lantern Festival. She would never imagine that she would be kidnapped and locked in a room.
"What's going to happen to us?" Mingyuan said in between breaths; her question was left to answer by anyone.
"My father is a government official. Do you think they will have the guts to do anything to us?" one girl said.
"Look at the way we're dressed. Anyone can tell that we are of noble birth. I think that us being the daughters of government officials are what caused us to be captured in the first place," Yangmi said while shaking her head.
"Aren't these bandits known for their greediness? We can promise them that if they return us to our family, we will give them a large sum of money," Mingyuan suggested. With the girls by her side, she was starting to feel a lot better.
"I don't think these men can be bought by money," Yangmi said softly. Throughout the carriage ride and the walk to this abandoned house, Yangmi has been observing the so-called "bandits."
Normal bandits were greedy, lusting bastards. But these men were different. Sure, they gave the girls inappropriate looks but Yangmi could tell that was all they would do. The main thing that alarmed her was their accent. Most people would assume they were a Feng Huang native. However, Yangmi's ears have always been keen, especially when it comes to accents. After listening to them, she could tell their Feng Huang accent was a little off; she bet on her signed Wallace Huo poster that these men are not from Feng Huang. She remembered from the book that, although Feng Huang and Zhu Que are neighboring countries, they were not on good terms with one another. Often times, citizens from Zhu Que would sneak into Feng Huang, either to immigrate here or to cause mayhem. Thus, she couldn't help but suspect these "bandits" to be Zhu Que citizens. Not only are these men planning to sell the girls, but they're also taunting Feng Huang—the women of Feng Huang will become the women of Zhu Que men. However, Yangmi's assumption is only half of the truth.
"Then what exactly is going to happen to us?" Mingyuan asked, her whole body shaking in fright.
Seeing how frighten everyone was, Yangmi didn't tell them they were going to be sold. Looking at Xiaoran, she asked, "What do you think?"
"I'm-I don't know," Xiaoran stuttered.
Yangmi sighed. "What if I say I have a way for us to escape?" Yangmi asked.
"Huh? You do? How? Can we leave now?" all the girls chimed in to ask questions.
"I think I may know the way out of this forest," Yangmi said.
"You do?" Xiaoran said with a look of surprise. The other girls were also in shock but hearing that Yangmi might be able to save them, they saw a ray of hope.
Yangmi nodded. "I do, but it's not going to be easy."
"I don't mind," Mingyuan said firmly. "I'd rather make an attempt to escape than wait in this room to die."
"No," a voice said. Everyone turned to look at the owner of the voice. "Didn't you hear what they said? If we try to escape, they'll hurt us and there are wild animals out there. Believe it or not, it's safer in here than out there. I think it's better if we wait for help."
Who does she think she is, some kind of fairytale princess waiting to be rescued by prince charming?
"So you'd rather sit around and wait to warm up someone's bed?" Everyone gasp, their eyes wide as they process Yangmi's words. Yangmi sighed. "That's right, they are going to sell us to some old man who isn't Wallace Huo," The girls' furrow their eyebrows, wondering who this Wallace Huo is but kept quiet as Yangmi continued, "These men will trample on our dignity and use our bodies as they please. I'd rather we die trying to escape than sitting around and wait for this 'help' that will not come in time."
Everyone was silent.
The girl who initially voiced her disagreement spoke. "So, what's the plan?"
Yangmi smiled. Ah, these ancient girls are so easy to convince. "Unfortunately, the only way to escape this room is through the door.," Yangmi said.
"But there's like a million locks. How can we escape?" Xiaoran asked.
Yangmi took the silver hairpin from her hair and hold it up. "With this." Yangmi have watched many tv shows and read many books in which the characters would use some type of pick to unlock the door. Initially, Yangmi though it to be unbelievable but after trying it out for herself, she found that this idea actually works.
"This….with just a hairpin?" Mingyuan asked skeptically. Yangmi only gave a small smile and instead of walking towards the door, she walked towards the small window, the only part of that room that light shone through. Although escaping through the door would be easier than climbing through a window, Yangmi knew that the chances of getting caught would be higher. Thus, the window was the only solution.
Yangmi grabbed a small stool, the only furniture in the room, and stepped on it, allowing her to reach the windows. She inserted the pin into the deadbolt and began to twist it around. She held her breath as the lock made multiple tiny clicking sounds. Upon hearing a loud "click" she knew that the pin was fully inserted and the window has been unlocked.
"How… how did you do that?" the girls asked excitedly.
"I read it from a book somewhere," Yangmi replied. "Now we have to climb through this window one-by-one. Although the window is small, I think you guys may still be able to fit through."
"I… I can try first," a girl volunteered.
"Ok, great!" Yangmi cheerfully said. The girl climbed onto the stool and reached for the ledge. With the help of the other girls, she was able to slowly climb through the window. A tiny thud can be heard that indicated her landing. Seeing the success of the first person, everyone excitedly followed her actions.
As Yangmi helped each individual, she slowly turned to face Xiaoran. "You know how to get back to the place where we got off the carriage, right?"
"Why do you ask?" Xiaoran replied without giving a direct answer.
"Because I don't remember, but I know you do," Yangmi said confidently. Since the beginning, she noticed that Xiaoran was different from the other girls. Unlike them, Xiaoran was calm. Once in a while, she would mask herself as being scared, but her eyes betrayed her. She was not scared at all. While walking to this abandoned house, Yangmi observed Xiaoran and saw her carefully counting her steps and secretly making marks on the trees. The way she walked also stood out. It was as if she trained in the military before.
Yangmi didn't wait for Xiaoran's response. "Return to that place. Once you do, face the oak tree and turn right. Keep walking until you hear the sound of a river. Follow it. When you reach the river, walk east along the river. Keep going until you see a bridge and wait there until the sunrises. Someone will eventually arrive and you guys can return home."
At the beginning of the novel, the author of the book drew a map of Feng Huang country. Yangmi looked at the map multiple times, trying to decipher all the locations mentioned in the story and practically memorized the map Thus, when the bandit mentioned they were in Meiwan Meilao Forest, Yangmi felt relieved. When they got off the carriage, she heard a slight sound of the flowing river and immediately knew their location.
"Why are you telling me this? Aren't you coming too?" Xiaoran asked skeptically
"I am, I'm just telling you my plan."
Finally, the only ones who have not escaped yet were Yangmi and Xiaoran.
"I can help you up first," Xiaoran offered.
"No it's ok, I'm taller so I will be able to reach the ledge with just the stool." Reluctantly, Xiaoran slowly climbed through first. As her legs began to finally leave the window, a deep voice shouted out, "Hey! What are you doing?" The guard immediately fumbled for his keys and tried to unlock the door. Hearing his voice, Xiaoran was about to come back down, not wanting to leave Yangmi alone. However, before she could do so, Yangmi gave Xiaoran a slight push, allowing Xiaoran to land outside just as the guard was able to come in.
"Remember! The river!" Yangmi shouted through the window.
Before, there were nine girls in this room. Now, there was only one left.